New York Times Adapting Modern Love Column into Weekly Podcast (Exclusive)

Daniel Jones - S 2015
Phoebe Jones/Courtesy of The New York Times

Daniel Jones - S 2015

The newspaper has partnered with Boston public radio station WBUR for a podcast series that will retell classic Modern Love essays.

The New York Times has published some 600 essays about love and relationships in the 11 years since it introduced its weekly Modern Love column — from the story about the man deeply affected by the failing health of his daughter’s goldfish to the one about the woman conned by a Craigslist “Missed Connection.” Now, the newspaper plans to bring these stories (and more) to life with a new podcast produced in collaboration with Boston public radio station WBUR.

The Modern Love Podcast will launch in early 2016 with weekly episodes featuring retellings of Modern Love classics. The podcast will start with the reading of a Modern Love essay complete with music, sound effects and a familiar voice — Judd Apatow, Jason Alexander, January Jones and Emmy Rossum are among the narrators who will read entries during the first batch of episodes.

During the second half of the episode, host Meghna Chakrabarti (Here & Now) and Modern Love editor Daniel Jones will conduct a follow-up conversation about the column, interviewing the narrator about their personal connection to the piece or the writer about what happened after the column ran.

WBUR general manager Charlie Kravetz says the Modern Love Podcast was born out of the NPR partner station’s iLab, where it incubates new podcasts and radio programs, and his team pitched the idea to The Times. Jones adds that he was interested in the idea at once. “What I find exciting about the project is seeing how the actors bring to these stories to life — from the emotion to the sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat tension,” says Jones, who has been editing the column since its inception in 2004. “And the follow-up conversations that we have with the writers about what’s happened in their lives since has been very inspiring. It’s something that has been mostly private until now, so it’s nice to offer that fuller experience."

With hundreds of essays to choose from for audio retelling, WBUR and Jones selected essays that lent themselves to the podcasting format through a dramatic storytelling structure, dialog or material that would spark conversation. They also searched for a range of stories that Jones describes as including “a diversity of voices and ages and experiences."

Podcasting has become the media format du jour, boosted by the surprise success of This American Life spinoff Serial in 2014. Gimlet Media launched last year and now has a stable of five shows, New York public radio station WNYC launched a division to expand its podcasting efforts in October and even Lena Dunham now hosts weekly podcast Women of the Hour.

The Times also offers up a number of podcasts, including one for music and another for book reviews. Alice Ting, vp brand development licensing and syndication at The Times, says that podcasting is something that the publication “continues to evaluate,” adding that the Modern Love column is a brand with the potential to reach new audiences. “It makes sense for us to extend it primarily because we have such engagement with our readers for that column,” Ting continues. “We were excited when we were approached by WBUR to partner on this initiative primarily because it is another way for us to not only engage with our readers but also to engage new readers to the column."

WBUR has three full-time staff members dedicated to the Modern Love Podcast in addition to members of the iLab team and other employees at the station, and Kravetz says they are working hard to adhere closely to their source material.

“It’s a wonderful time for podcasting,” Kravetz adds. “There’s a tremendous amount of interest for new podcasts that people engage in, but there are 300,000 podcasts on iTunes and our goal is to be among the most popular and widely listened to in the country. We have grand hopes and ambitions that people will fall in love with this in the same way that they’ve fallen in love with the column."